When South Dakota students return to school in the fall, they will be greeted by a new message—the United States motto “In God We Trust.”
In keeping with a new state law, the words will be painted in school entryways, in cafeterias or other prominent spots in all of the state’s 149 school districts.
Gov. Kristi Noem signed the law in March, and it went into effect this month. The law requires the message be prominently displayed on the first day of classes. It can be painted, stenciled or otherwise prominently displayed. The words must be at least 12-by-12 inches, easily readable and approved by the school’s principal. They can be included on a mounted plaque, student artwork or other appropriate forms at the principal’s discretion.
Franklin Graham applauded the new law.
“Way to go South Dakota!” he wrote in a Facebook post. “… When you think about it, this simple four-word historic motto is so profound. The only hope for the future of our nation is in Almighty God. They knew it back in the 1800’s when this motto was first used during the Civil War, and it is still true today. This should not only be the motto on our country’s currency, but the motto of our families, lived out every day. Maybe we should take a lesson from South Dakota schools and stencil it in our homes—and in our hearts.”
South Dakota lawmakers said the law was meant to inspire patriotism in the state’s public schools. “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins primarily because of increased religious sentiment during the Civil War, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The phrase was declared the official U.S. motto in 1956, during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency.
Wade Pogany, Associated School Boards of South Dakota executive director, told Fox News schools are complying with the law in different ways.
“Some have plaques. Other have it painted on the wall, maybe in a mural setting,” Pogany said. In one school “it was within their freedom wall. They added that to a patriotic theme.”
In Rapid City, the state’s second-largest city, school staff have been busy all summer getting the signs in place.
“As soon as we heard that it was going to be a state law … we started looking at different options, and we chose to do stenciling as it is the most uniform and most affordable option,” Katy Urban, the district’s community relations manager, told NPR.
According to Urban, most people believe it is a good thing for students to see the motto posted on a daily basis, but unfortunately there are some critics.
In May, a group of Rapid City students from Stevens High School approached the school board, suggesting alternating the word God with other words for the purpose of being more inclusive. Suggestions included Buddha, Yahweh and Allah, as well as words like science and even ourselves. The school board did not act on the request and proceeded with its original plan.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has legally challenged the motto’s inclusion on U.S. currency, advised its South Dakota members to contact their legislators to express opposition to the law.
“Our position is that it’s a terrible violation of freedom of conscience to inflict a godly message on a captive audience of school children,” foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said Wednesday.
Pogany said the school boards’ association was OK with the legislation as long as it provided legal protection.
“One of our concerns was that this would be contested, so we had asked the legislature to put a ‘hold harmless’ clause into the bill,” Pogany said. “The state would then defend the schools and pay the cost of the defense.”
While the bill does not provide funding for displays of the motto, it does stipulate that the state attorney general will represent at no cost any school district, district employee, school board or school board member against whom a lawsuit or complaint is filed over the display.
The state will also assume financial responsibility for any additional expenses aside from legal representation involved with litigation, the law says.
At least six states—Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Arizona—have passed similar legislation implementing or allowing public schools to post the U.S. motto in recent years.